Home to one of the most famous cloud forests in the world, Monteverde, Costa Rica attracts visitors from around the globe who hope to escape into the arms of ficus trees or spot the notorious Resplendent Quetzal. 

While ecotourism defines the community today, a rich history of a symbiotic relationship with nature soars back nearly one hundred years.

Founded by a community of Quakers, Monteverde was nurtured as a natural space that provides. Emerging as an economy based in agriculture to now one dominated by tourism, Monteverde has always provided for its people. However, we know too well that our species has fallen into a dangerous cycle of consuming Earth’s gifts with little regard for long-term implications.

I spent a week with Rollins College’s Crummer Graduate School of Business exploring Monteverde to hear from leaders of the Life Monteverde organization, tour the Cloud Forest Reserve, visit a cooperative of female artisans, and learn from a local family‐owned small enterprise. We found that tourism in the community is poised to continue significant growth due to improvements to the entrance roads to Monteverde, making the community more accessible to a greater number of tourists, some who may only stay a few hours.  

In response to this challenge, our group of nine Crummer students ran a 48-hour design thinking sprint. Breaking into teams of three, we gathered empathy in the community, identified the challenge from the point of view of the community members, ideated, and built a prototype to present to Crummer Professor Dr. Keith Whittingham and Life Monteverde Leader and farmer Guillermo Vargas.

The three teams came up with three solutions: form a support alliance between local businesses, develop a scholarship fund for local teenagers, and build a community culture and nature center. Each solution aimed to strengthen the community’s tie to nature and each other in order to endure the inevitable tourism pervading their home. 

When visiting special communities like Monteverde, we must practice social responsibility. In the words of scientist and activist Dr. Jane Goodall:

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

Monteverde taught me, and teaches visitors from all corners of the world, that we owe the spaces that keep giving. In contrast to our learned intuitions, we must act mindfully and acknowledge the impact that our actions have on our planet. 

Those traveling to Monteverde and other ecotourism destinations have a lot to learn from Earth’s natural spaces. It is up to each visitor to determine what to do with the knowledge. I will leave you with a question I pondered with Guillermo: If we deem ourselves the highest, most intelligent species on this planet, what will we leave as our legacy?

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